WE have, from time to time in this space, unapologetically criticised politicians for their missteps and shortcomings which we believed were potentially injurious to the nation. We have also unreservedly given credit where it is due.
Happily, we are again in a position to give fulsome praise to a politician and government minister, Dr Wykeham McNeill, the minister of tourism, whose recent election as chairman of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Executive Council for 2014-2015 is international recognition of the outstanding job he has been doing in Jamaica's all-important tourism industry.
Politics and public service are in Dr McNeill's DNA, so it's no surprise that he followed in the footsteps of his father, Dr Ken McNeill, a former People's National Party Cabinet minister. After studying medicine in Cuba in 1983, the young medical practitioner worked in hospitals in St Ann's Bay, Spanish Town, and at the University Hospital of the West Indies and Kingston Public Hospital in the capital city.
A co-founder of the Clinic of Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy, Dr McNeill has worked with national teams in several sports, notably with the Reggae Boyz, and was a member of the medical team to the Olympic Games in Athens. He served as a member of the Jamaica Boxing Board of Control from 1994-1997 and was chairman of the Sports Development Foundation from 1995 to 2000. He has been member of parliament for western Westmoreland since 1997, and first held ministerial office in 2000 as a junior minister in the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, now the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, with responsibility to directly oversee tourism operations, including cruise shipping and tourism development.
Dr McNeill was appointed the minister of tourism in January 2012 and the industry has flourished during his tenure, as is evident in the increases in tourist arrival and the earning of vital foreign exchange.
The industry has been stabilised despite harsh economic conditions in the main countries of origin for visitors to Jamaica. A number of new initiatives have been undertaken, including improved airlift to the island both in seats and the range of originating destinations. His Achilles heel is the overtaxation of the industry, which, we are aware, is not entirely his fault.
Dr McNeill is well liked by friend and political foe alike for his calm, affable manner and his willingness to listen to stakeholders in the tourism industry. These qualities, together with his intelligence and evident experience in tourism, have been recognised by his colleagues in the UNWTO.
In typically understated tone, he stated that the appointment is a reflection of the stature and esteem that Jamaica enjoys in world leadership circles and respect with which our tourism industry is viewed globally.
Maybe, as in the case of so many other prominent Jamaicans, it is only after international recognition that we fully appreciate the achievements of locally resident Jamaicans. Dr McNeill's quiet demeanour has not garnered him the media attention commanded by some of his more vocal political colleagues, but his performance as minister of tourism deserves far more recognition.